My Best Books of 2016 – at All About Romance

best-of-2016-covers

Over the past week or so All About Romance has been publishing the team’s lists of their Top Ten books read in 2016. The vast majority of these are books published in 2016, although a few are books published previously that have been read this year.

All my choices are 2016 titles, and as usual, it was a tough list to compile. I’ve had a good reading year (I’ll be taking a look at my stats at some point and posting about those) and at AAR, have awarded a good number of B Grades and up, indicating that I read many more books I enjoyed than books I didn’t, which I count a definite plus.

Pinning it down to ten books was TOUGH, as was picking an outright “book of the year”, because this year (unlike last), that moniker could have been applied to practically every book on my list. But being I’m a bit of an angst-bunny, I went for the book that ripped out my heart and stomped on it a few times, AND which I’d been most eagerly anticipating.  Click on the link and all will be revealed!

My Best of 2016

A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

splendid-defiance-audio-cover-1-2

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance…but will it be enough?

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Anyone who – like me – appreciates Historical Romance that has a firm emphasis on the “Historical” will find a great many things to enjoy in this new audiobook version of Stella Riley’s A Splendid Defiance.  Set during the turbulent years of the English Civil War, the novel tells the true story of the small garrison of around three hundred and fifty men who held the strategically important Royalist stronghold of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire in the face of overwhelming odds, and many of the characters who grace its pages are people who actually existed.

Skilfully interwoven with the story of the castle and its defenders is the glorious (but fictional) slow-burn romance between Justin Ambrose, a cynical, acerbic captain in the King’s army and Abigail Radford, whose brother, Jonas, is a leader of the local community and a die-hard Puritan.  The romance starts very slowly – so anyone who expects the first kiss between the hero and heroine to happen in chapter three is going to be disappointed – but builds steadily throughout and is all the more believable as a result.  Justin and Abigail begin the story as strangers and the author allows their relationship to develop in a manner that feels perfectly realistic, considering he’s a serving army officer with duties to perform and Abby lives a very restrictive life controlled by her harsh zealot of a brother.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

The Chevalier (Chateaux and Shadows #3) by Philippa Lodge

the-chevalier

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Emmanuel, Chevalier de Cantière, youngest son of a baron, is happiest raising horses far from his complicated family. When news comes his mother is deathly ill, he races to her side only to find she has apparently recovered and moved on, leaving behind her companion, Catherine.

Catherine de Fouet blends into the background, saving up so she’ll never have to wait on waspish, scheming old ladies like the baronesse again. She has no interest in a resentful gentleman, estranged from his mother, no matter how broad his shoulders or intriguing the wounded soul behind his handsome face. She just needs someone to escort her back to Versailles.

But Catherine is suspected of poisoning the baronesse. She rebuffs a pushy courtier who tries to use blackmail to make her his mistress, and her reputation hangs by a thread.

The chevalier wants more than anything to protect this woman whose prickly exterior hides sweetness and passion. They need his family to help him through court intrigues—almost as much as they need each other.

Rating: D+

The Chevalier is the third book in Ms. Lodge’s Châteaux and Shadows series, which is set in late seventeenth century France at the time of the reign of Louis XIV.  In my review of the previous book, The Honorable Officer, I wrote that I had primarily selected it because there is a dearth of historical romance set in that country and that time period (that is written in English), and noted that while the author did a decent job with the mystery storyline therein, the romance was somewhat wooden and underdeveloped. When The Chevalier was offered for review I decided to try it based once again on my liking for the time and setting and in the hope that perhaps the romance might be stronger and more, well, romantic.

Hélas, I’m about to level the same criticisms at this book as at the last one.

This story takes place around twelve years after the events of the previous book, and our hero is Emmanuel de Cantière, the youngest son of the Baron and Baronesse de Brosse.  We learned in The Honorable Officer that Emmanuel – Manu – is considerably younger than his brothers, and that his relationship with his parents is a difficult and complicated one.  His mother and father are estranged, and the baron removed Manu from his mother’s care when he was twelve or thirteen in order for him to be brought up in an environment more suited to a young man.  This continues to be a source of much resentment between the de Brosses and Manu is still filled with animosity, guilt and other conflicting emotions about both his parents.

Manu now resides at one of his father’s properties in Poitou, where he lives quietly, breeding horses.  An urgent message from his father’s house, telling him that his mother is seriously ill, sees him travelling as quickly as he can in response – but when he arrives, he is astonished to discover that she has recovered and is en route to Paris.  His astonishment turns to fury at the thought that she hadn’t bothered to wait for him and he decides to set out after her – and he is further displeased by the information that he can escort his mother’s companion – who had also fallen ill and has just recovered – back to the Baronesse’s side.

Catherine de Fouet is quiet, unassuming and content to fade into the background until she has put aside enough money from her employment and can afford to return to her home in Normandy. She is not completely recovered when she makes the difficult and uncomfortable journey to Versailles – a journey made worse by Monsieur de Cantière’s bad temper and obvious disdain for her.

After Manu and Catherine arrive and are reunited with the Baronesse, there is a lot of filler involving the various members of the family, their rambunctious offspring, a young man who makes improper advances towards Catherine… and eventually, at well past the half-way point, we come to the poisoning which is mentioned in the book’s blurb. It seems that the Baronesse has been ill, on and off, over the past year, and when she is taken ill again, the doctor declares that she has been poisoned. The blurb also says that Catherine is suspected of poisoning her mistress, but it’s all very low key; there is no investigation, no tension and absolutely no drama about this, even though the Affair of the Poisons, which saw a number of high-profile courtiers arrested on charges of poisoning and witchcraft, was in full swing at the time the book is set. I had hoped for more focus on this aspect of the plot, but it feels as though it’s there as an afterthought and isn’t developed or explored at all.

Something else which isn’t developed or explored is the romance between Catherine and Manu, which just… appears. They spend very little time together on the page, and even less time together alone. There is no sense that these two people are getting to know each other; all we get is Catherine looking at Manu and sighing over the breadth of his shoulders and Manu feeling a touch of lust for his mother’s companion, and then, hey presto! they’re in love. There is zero romantic tension between them and no emotional connection whatsoever.

The previous book in this series benefitted from a solidly written mystery element to the storyline, but without something similar to hold this one together, and without anything resembling strong characterisation, engaging protagonists or a decently written romance, The Chevalier is just a seemingly endless succession of flat, uninteresting scenes between the members of the de Cantière family. I really wanted to like it, but I didn’t and can’t recommend it.

Lords of Misrule (Roundheads and Cavaliers #4) by Stella Riley

Lords of Misrule March 2016

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes a personal crusade.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives. On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.
Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task. Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

Rating:A

Stella Riley’s Roundheads and Cavaliers series of books set during the English Civil Wars is an absolute treat for those who enjoy well-researched historical fiction AND historical romance. Each book in the series is grounded strongly in historical fact and the stories Ms Riley layers atop her chosen background are cleverly constructed and closely interlinked with the events of the day, often so skilfully that it’s difficult to see the join. As well as immersing the reader into the world of seventeenth century England, she puts a strongly written and sensual romance at the centre of her books, creating attractive, believable protagonists who really seem to act and think like men and women of their times.

Each book can be read as a standalone, although there are a number of recurring characters throughout and given that the historical events are followed chronologically, I’d advise reading them in order. The first book, The Black Madonna opens in 1639, which is when we first meet Eden Maxwell as a hopeful, optimistic young man of twenty or twenty-one. He is desperately in love with the daughter of a neighbouring family, Celia Langley, and determined to marry her in spite of the warnings of friends and family who say she is wrong for him. Sadly for Eden, they are right. Celia is beautiful, vain and selfish and only agreed to marry him because he was so thoroughly besotted with her that she believed he’d be easy to manage and because she liked being so adored.

Eden’s troubles did not end there, however, for when civil war broke out, the Maxwells and the Langleys were on different sides of the conflict and even though Celia was now his wife, her sympathies were with the Royalists. She bore Eden a son, Jude, and some years later, a daughter Eden knows is not his. Celia eventually ran off with a Royalist officer, leaving her children at Eden’s family home of Thorne Ash, while disillusioned and embittered, Eden concentrated on his army career and rarely returns home.

Lords of Misrule opens in late 1653, around four years after the execution of King Charles I and more than a decade after the start of a series of bloody civil wars that divided England and its people. But regicide has not solved any of the problems that beset the country, and in fact things seem to be getting worse. While there were many factors that led to Charles’ trip to the executioner’s block – unpopular taxes, expensive wars and Charles’ insistence on his divine right to rule – England is still in political and social turmoil, so much so that many of Cromwell’s supporters have begun to ask themselves just what exactly they had been fighting for.

Lords of Misrule opens in late 1653, around four years after the execution of King Charles I and more than a decade after the start of a series of bloody civil wars that divided England and its people. But regicide has not solved any of the problems that beset the country, and in fact things seem to be getting worse. While there were many factors that led to Charles’ trip to the executioner’s block – unpopular taxes, expensive wars and Charles’ insistence on his divine right to rule – England is still in political and social turmoil, so much so that many of Cromwell’s supporters have begun to ask themselves just what exactly they had been fighting for.

Colonel Eden Maxwell is one of those people. A highly trained and skilled officer, he has risen through the ranks and is now a trusted member of Cromwell’s inner circle. He is currently working for the Secretary of State, John Thurloe, as an intelligencer and cryptographer, but as the days pass, finds being chained to his desk increasingly frustrating. His repeated requests for a leave of absence have been denied and he is stuck in London buried under the mounds of paper generated by reports of unrest, possible insurrection, royalist plots and a myriad of other dull, fruitless tasks – until he receives information of a more plausible plot against Cromwell’s life (there were several at this point in time). One of the suspected conspirators, Sir Aubrey Durand, leads Eden to the citylorinery run by his widowed sister, and in the course of his investigations into the plot, Eden uncovers far more than he’d initially been looking for.

Lydia Neville was contented in her marriage a man several decades older than herself. On his death, she inherited all his property, including the lorinery, which she continues to run successfully and in spite of the constantly expressed disapproval of his relatives, all of whom invade her home on an almost daily basis to try to persuade her to give it up. But Lydia is no shrinking miss and makes it clear each time that she will do no such thing – although her assurances fall upon deaf ears and do not dissuade them from their latest scheme to marry her off to her late husband’s smarmy cousin.

When Eden visits the lorinery, he is pleasantly surprised to find some of his former comrades working there, for the business employs invalid ex-soldiers who would not otherwise be able to find work, regardless of which side they fought on. He is quite impressed by Lydia – or perhaps “impressed” is the wrong word, although she certainly makes an impression upon him by virtue of her strength of character, quick mind and sharp tongue. But what Eden has learned from the men concerns him. Someone has been making threats against Lydia, and those threats have started to get serious. Although she has tried to dismiss them as the prejudice any woman in business might expect to encounter, deep down she knows this is not the case and that she needs help if she is to be able to get to the bottom of them before anyone is seriously hurt – or worse.

Anyone who has read any of Stella Riley’s other books won’t need me to tell them that her plot is impeccably constructed, her characterisation is superb, her research is detailed and extensive and that she writes the most exquisitely ‘romantic’ romances in which the sexual tension between the hero and heroine is built gradually and subtly. There is no repetitive mental lusting and no insta-lust, just a wonderfully developed relationship between two people who are obviously attracted to each other but who have to function in the real world around them and can’t just drop everything while they moon over the object of their affections.

Ms. Riley’s greatest strength – and she has many – is probably characterisation. She has the knack of creating the most gorgeous heroes, men who are physically attractive, of course, but who are also intelligent, honourable, kind and quick-witted with a dry sense of humour and possessed of the kind of competence and confidence which is extremely sexy. Eden is no exception, and readers who have been waiting for his story for the last couple of decades certainly won’t be disappointed now that he’s the centre of attention. His unhappy marriage and the strain it put on his relationship with his family – especially Jude, who is now a teenager – play an important part in the novel, and I loved watching the gradual reconciliation between father and son. It’s not easy for either of them and Ms. Riley wisely shows that there is still a way to go; but what we are shown is touching and very believable. Lydia is a great heroine, a woman in a man’s world who refuses to bow to outside pressure but who has sense enough to recognise that she needs help and isn’t too proud to accept it. There is one time when she makes an unwise decision – even though she’s been warned against it – that leads to near disaster, but otherwise, she’s strong, independent and very likeable, a good match for Eden, in every way.

There is a very strongly-drawn set of secondary characters in the book, some of whom, like Eden’s younger brother, Toby, and his house-guest, Sir Nicholas Austin, we have met before. Toby is a real scene-stealer – handsome, charming, roguish and forever having to step over the pile of women who fall at his feet – can we have a book about him next, pretty please? Fans of Gabriel Brandon from Garland of Straw will be very pleased to encounter him again as he travels to London to take up a seat in Parliament, and at the continuance of the strong friendship between him and Eden. One of those other many strengths of Ms Riley’s I mentioned is her ability to write thoroughly convincing male friendships; and that talent is showcased here in both Eden’s relationship with Gabriel and in his interactions with Toby, which are often funny and, for want of a better word, very brotherly.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what readers can expect to find in Lords of Misrule. There’s a well-conceived and well-executed mystery, a tender, sensual romance, and a fascinating historical background which never feels like too much information or as though one is being given an history lesson. If you’re tempted to start here, I think you could probably do so with minimal effort, but ultimately, all the books in the series are such damn good reads that I’d suggest starting with The Black Madonna. Before you’re half-way through, you’ll want to turn off your phone, ignore your kids/work/friends, lock yourself away and not come out until you’ve finished them all.

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Kill or Be Kilt (Highland Spies #3) by Victoria Roberts

Kill or Be Kilt
This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lady Elizabeth Walsingham pined after the same man for years. When she finally realizes the brawny Highland laird doesn’t return her feelings, she decides to leave for London and start anew. It seems that her prayers are answered when she catches the eye of a charming actor at the Globe Theatre – a man who is the complete opposite of the Highlander she once loved.

Laird Ian Monroe spends his time avoiding the bothersome young girl who dreams of their union. But when he travels to London and discovers that she has a new love interest with a dishonorable agenda, his perspective changes. Ian soon realizes that Elizabeth is no longer a child with a crush, but a beautiful woman in need of his help. He may have what it takes to rescue Elizabeth from her scheming beau, but does he have the courage to reclaim Elizabeth’s heart as well?

Rating:C

Kill or Be Kilt is one of those books that is like a frothy dessert – enjoyable while it lasts, but easily forgotten. It’s decently written and the central characters are reasonably engaging, but it’s ultimately insubstantial, and there are inconsistencies to some aspects of the plot that had me shaking my head at such obvious contrivances.

It’s the third book in Victoria Roberts’ Highland Spies series featuring the Walsingham sisters, daughters of Francis (Elizabeth I’s renowned spymaster) and nieces of Walter Mildmay, also a spy for the Crown. Elizabeth Walsingham’s older sisters are both happily married to highlanders, Laird Ruairi Sutherland and his guard captain, Fagan Murray and Scotland has become their home, but Elizabeth is starting to feel restless. Her older sisters are happy and her younger sister shows every sign of finding her happily ever after in Scotland, too, but Elizabeth feels as though she doesn’t belong and thinks that perhaps it’s time for her to go back to England to find a husband.

Three years earlier, she had developed a massive crush on Laird Ian Munro, a close friend of Ruairi’s. Unfortunately, everyone – including the object of her affections – knew how she felt, but now, at eighteen, she is over him and wants to move on with her life. When news of her uncle’s death in a carriage accident reaches Sutherland, Elizabeth and her sisters travel to England to pay their respects, escorted by Ruairi, Fagan and Ian, and then while Ravenna and Grace go to Apethorpe Hall to visit their aunt, Elizabeth, with the men as her guardians, travels on to Hampton Court, so that the men can present themselves to King James and Elizabeth can experience something of English court life.

Having stayed away from Sutherland for three years simply to avoid Elizabeth’s youthful pestering, Ian is astonished to discover that the girl who annoyed him to distraction has turned into a beautiful young woman. Of course, he doesn’t want her for himself – like her sisters, she’s too clever, too sharp-tongued and altogether too much trouble – but when she attracts the attention of a young nobleman and a respected actor, Ian starts suffering from a severe attack by the green-eyed-monster. And as if that weren’t bad enough, when other members of the King’s Privy Council are found dead under mysterious circumstances, it begins to look as though Mildmay’s death was not an accident, and Elizabeth and her guardians are drawn into the hunt for the killer.

Ian is a bumblingly endearing hero, a big, brawny man who has absolute confidence in his sword-arm, but surprisingly low self-esteem when it comes to his appearance, and has no idea how to woo a woman. Elizabeth is a likeable heroine and doesn’t have as many TSTL moments as Grace did in Kilts and Daggers, but she isn’t very well defined as a character and is ultimately rather bland.

The mystery element is very simplistic and while I enjoyed the banter between Ian, Fergus and Ruari, which is often quite funny, the idea of these big, brawny Scotsmen sitting around discussing women is pretty unrealistic and made me wonder when they were going to start braiding each other’s hair. One thing I found particularly problematic was the author’s use of a number of Gaelic words and phrases in the story. I don’t quibble with her using them, but each time, the phrase is immediately translated into English, which is jarring and quickly became annoying. These examples appear exactly as they appear in the text:

”Turas math dhut,”said Ian. Have a good journey.
Or
”Tha e a-bhos an seao!” It’s over here!

I venture to suggest that there is little point in using a language few of your readers will understand if you’re going to have to translate every word. I’m sure it was done for a reason, but unfortunately, the effect is probably not the one that was intended.

Kill or Be Kilt will perhaps suit someone wanting to while away a few hours with a solidly written, but undemanding story. I didn’t dislike the book, but it’s extremely lightweight – on both the plot and emotional content – and isn’t one I can recommend without reservation.

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The Honorable Officer (Châteaux and Shadows #2) by Philippa Lodge

the honorable officer

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

He’ll do anything to save his daughter, even fall in love.

France, 1668

Hélène de Bonnefoi’s spirit has been squashed by the ever-critical aunt and uncle who raised her. Serving as nanny and stand-in mother to her cousin’s child has saved her from the convent, especially after her cousin’s death. When suspicious accidents threaten the toddler, Hélène overcomes her debilitating near-blindness to seek the help of the child’s father, a colonel in Louis XIV’s army.

Jean-Louis, Colonel de Cantière, has spent his life proving his worth, integrity, and honor, first to his family and now in the army. When his daughter’s caretaker appears in his camp during a siege, claiming someone is trying to kill the girl, his loyalties are sorely tested.

Hélène must convince Jean-Louis the threat is real. But the true danger is to the heart of a shy young woman who has always loved her cousin’s husband from afar and to the colonel’s desire to resist complicated emotions.

Rating: C

I’m an unashamed Francophile and chose this book to review because of the French setting and because I’m always on the lookout for historical fiction and/or historical romances set in France. There are surprisingly few around – well, ones that are written in English, anyway, my French not being quite up to novel-reading standard these days. So the fact that The Honorable Officer is set in Louis XIV’s France during the time of the War of Devolution against Spain was the big draw for me, even though I have never read anything by this author and have not read the previous book in the Châteaux and Shadows series.

Colonel Jean-Louis de Cantière is a widower with a young daughter, Ondine, who lives with his late wife’s family while he is away on campaign. He has not seen her since his wife’s funeral a year previously, so is stunned when Mademoiselle Hélène de Bonnefoi, who is, to all intents and purposes, Ondine’s nanny, arrives at his camp with the little girl in tow, explaining that they have run away following an attempt on Ondine’s life. Jean-Louis is sceptical to say the least, but makes arrangements for his daughter and her guardian to be taken to a place of safety while he investigates Hélène’s story.

It’s only after another attempt at murder – this time at the camp – that Jean-Louis starts to take the threat seriously. But who would want to harm a two-year-old girl, and what could possibly be gained by killing her? This is what Jean-Louis and Hélène have to work out, while simultaneously trying to keep Ondine safe from harm. Realising that he cannot possibly keep his daughter safe while also carrying out his military duties, the colonel asks for a short leave of absence, which is very grudgingly granted him by his superior, the Prince de Condé. Jean-Louis and Hélène, accompanied by his resourceful valet, Fourbier, make their way to his family home in Poitou where he believes Ondine will be safe – but when during the course of their journey another attempt is made to harm the girl, Jean-Louis starts to believe that Ondine is not the target at all and to think that perhaps whoever is intent on murder is actually after Hélène.

The author sets up the mystery plotline well, and even though the villain’s identity and motives are perhaps somewhat predictable, it unfolds at a good pace and was intriguing enough to keep me engaged with the story. Unfortunately, however, the romance is far less successful and had it not been for the mystery plot, I would almost certainly have struggled to finish the book. Hélène is a stereotypical downtrodden relative who was always pushed to the background in favour of her beautiful, vivacious cousin. She fell in love with Jean-Louis de Cantière the moment she first encountered him – but he was betrothed to her cousin Amandine. She, however, was a heartless coquette who thought nothing of cuckolding her husband and who died giving birth to another man’s child. Naturally, Jean-Louis is wary of marriage and has no intention of falling for a woman ever again – until he meets Hélène and is enchanted by her beauty and courage.

Neither Jean-Louis nor Hélène are particularly memorable, and there is no romantic spark between them at all. The few love scenes are awkward and their relationship as a whole is not well-developed; it just seems to arrive fully-formed on the page. Jean-Louis is once bitten, but is obviously not twice shy given the speed at which he changes his mind about remarrying; and while I think Hélène is meant to be quietly courageous, most of the time she just fades into the background and I’m struggling to come up with something that stands out about her. The most memorable thing I can think of is the fact that her eyesight is terrible and she has to use a quizzing glass to see; this is mentioned with annoying regularity.

The author also includes a secondary romance between Jean-Louis’ brother, Henri, and Fourbier, but I use the term ‘romance’ loosely, as there is really no romance there at all. We learn that Fourbier had hopes of his handsome employer, hopes encouraged because Jean-Louis has shown no interest in women since his wife’s death – and because one of his brothers is gay. Huh? I had to scratch my head at that because I didn’t think being gay was something that runs in families! When Hélène shows up, Fourbier realises his hopes were in vain, but when he meets Henri, he happily transfers his affections and the two begin a relationship. I’m assuming Ms Lodge was hoping to achieve something here – I’m just not sure what it was.

The complicated familial relationships between Jean-Louis, his brothers and their very unpleasant mother are well-drawn and add another layer of interest, but I can’t recommend the book as a romance. The mystery plot works well and there are some interesting family conflicts which I imagine may be explored in future stories, but the love story is lacklustre and the protagonists are flat. The writing is decent for the most part, although at times it’s a bit wooden, and it lacks that certain “je ne sais quoi” that can turn an ordinary book into an above average one. And while the primary attraction for me was the setting of seventeenth century France, the book doesn’t have an especially strong sense of place or period, which was disappointing. If you’re looking for an historical set in a less commonly used location and time-period, readThe Honorable Officer for the mystery, not the romance.

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The Accidental Bride by Jane Feather (audiobook) – Narrated by Jenny Sterlin

the accidental bride

For four years, Cato, the Marquis of Granville, had been just another man — the uninteresting, somewhat intimidating husband of Phoebe’s older sister. But then her sister died, and Phoebe seemed a reasonable substitute. Her forced engagement to him should have been quite a cold-blooded arrangement… except that one day Phoebe looked at Granville — really looked at him — and saw what she’d never seen before: he was darkly, breathtakingly attractive.

Once she’d noticed, she couldn’t seem to stop noticing, and suddenly Phoebe was disastrously in love. It would be nothing short of torture to be married to Granville, knowing he didn’t love her and never would. After all, Phoebe was not the kind of woman men fell in love with — Phoebe with her untidy hair, her rumpled clothes, and her fingers forever ink-stained from the poetry she wrote.

When running away does not solve her problems, Phoebe decides to try something a little different — something that involves a little change in wardrobe, a daring new attitude, and a bit of brazen seduction.

Granville is about to discover that his awkward Phoebe is woman enough even for him….

Rating: B for narration; B- for content

Originally published in 1999, The Accidental Bride is the middle book in a trilogy set during the English Civil War, which features three rather unconventional young women all finding their way to true love. Before I start this review, however, I have to say that there are a number of things about this particular book which might prove problematic for some listeners, so I’m going to get them out of the way.

1. The hero is almost twice the heroine’s age – she’s eighteen, he’s thirty-five.

2. The hero is a widower three times over, so the heroine is wife number four.

3. His most recent wife was the heroine’s older sister. (I looked this one up, because at one time a marriage between a man and his dead wife’s sister was illegal in England, but it doesn’t seem to have been so in 1645).

4. The hero’s fifteen year old daughter (by wife number two) is the heroine’s best friend.

None of those things bother me particularly, and I can say that in spite of a few reservations about plot and characterisation, I enjoyed the audiobook overall.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.